Tuesday, November 28, 2006



Guillermo Parra was born in Cambridge, MA. His poems and essays have appeared in Xcp, 6x6, CARVE and The CLR James Journal. His CARACAS NOTEBOOK was published by Cy Gist Press in 2006. He is editing an anthology of XX century Venezuelan poetry in English translation.

Four Poems by Juan Sánchez Peláez
By Guillermo Parra

Juan Sánchez Peláez’s first book Elena y los elementos was published in 1951 in Caracas. He had returned from studying in Chile for several years, where he had befriended the poets of the surrealist group Mandrágora, whose magazine published his first writings in the mid-1940s. Elena y los elementos opened new spaces in Venezuelan poetry, auguring an original interpretation of surrealism, indirectly associated with the Orígenes poets of Cuba, and with Venezuelan avant-gardes of the 1950s and 60s. He influenced many of the young members of El Techo de La Ballena, a collective of writers and artists in Caracas in the early 1960s. In 1975 he received Venezuela’s Premio Nacional de Literatura. A definitive version of his collected poems was published in Barcelona, Spain by Editorial Lumen in 2004. All my English versions are translated from this Lumen edition.

Sánchez Peláez was born in the small town of Altagracia de Orituco, in the state of Guárico in 1922 and died in Caracas in 2003. Miyo Vestrini interviewed him for the newspaper El Nacional in 1982, where he spoke about poetry in Venezuela:

"There’s a crisp tone in Elena y los elementos that borders certain tragic zones. It's a youthful, desperately romantic book. There's a deliberate desire to name the body. Almost a necessity."

"There's a surrealist tone in my work, especially in my first book. I'm a surrealist even in the strictest sense, since many of my poems are made through automatic writing."

"I lived an initial season in Paris in the worst of financial circumstances. Oswaldo Barreto, when we ran into each other by chance in front of the Luxembourg Gardens, gave me a place to stay in his little apartment as soon as I arrived. But why dwell on poverty? I was in Paris, there were luminous days, and I was among friends!"

"It's difficult for the poet to find his voice within contemporary chaos. There are many obstacles, few elements of inspiration. I believe in the muse and woman has ceased being a muse. In the middle of industrial expansion, man is abandoned. Progress cripples being's intimacy. On the one hand, there are many new editions being published, more support. But the poet assumes that poetry has no audience. The interest in antipoetry grows. I think poets participate in the contests precisely to see if their voices resonate. Dialogue is lacking, a dialogue the workshops can't replace. Poetry is a team effort. Lautreamont spoke of this, a poetry made by everyone. In the interior of the country, it's different. There are vigorous, more communicative groups. It's just that Caracas gives so little..."
--(El Nacional, 1982)

He worked variously as a teacher, journalist, translator, diplomat and editor. He lived in New York City during the early 1970s, after receiving a Fellowship from the Iowa Writers Workshop. In 1976 he edited an anthology of selected poems by the Chilean surrealist Rosamel del Valle for Monte Ávila Editores. Octavio Paz published him in his magazine Vuelta during the 1980s, but for the most part his work remains largely unknown.

For this feature, I’ve translated four poems by Juan Sánchez Peláez: “Elena y los elementos” and “Mitología de la ciudad y el mar,” from his first book Elena y los elementos (1951). And his entire final book, Aire sobre el aire (1989), comprised of two poems, “Los viejos” and “Aire sobre el aire.” Almost all these texts are in serial form, at times echoing Jack Spicer’s notion of the poem being a type of music or transmission one tunes in to.

As an addendum, I've translated remembrances of Sánchez Peláez by two of his friends, the Cuban poet Lorenzo García Vega (originally published in Miami's El Nuevo Herald in January 2004) and the Venezuelan poet and painter Juan Calzadilla (published in Caracas in the Revista Nacional de Cultura in April 2004).


Elena and the Elements

Alone in the depths of the fury. To her, who jeers my flesh, who
           keeps my bone awake, who whimpers in my shadow.

To Her, my strength and my form, before the landscape.

You who don't know me, grant me oblivion.
You who resist,
a scream's brightness, legs in ecstasy, I destroy you,
           friendly blood, my enemy, cruel lascivious.

Our unfaithful animal voices crawling in a
           sumptuous room without doors or keys.
When a nautical gust of bees tears me apart, I lose
           your oil paintings, your magnets, a vine of estuaries in the garden.

My first communion is hunger, battles.
Does my forehead roll in an arc,
           do my eyes jump over the pacific snow?
Do melodious bells flower in an abyss of fear?

Later, without design, the dew blends into the world its
great nostalgia of humid falcons.

While uprooting me into nothingness
My mother saw, what? I don't remember.
I was emerging from the cold, from the unspeakable.

One morning I discovered my sex, my burning sides,
           my bursts of impossible spring.

At the tree's shadow
           they'll begin to devour me from my wide nostalgia,
           they'll begin.

Know this, ondulating Ondina of the sea and ephemeral algae
           of the earth.
A tall man went to the cemetery
He frightened a dog that was barking
His force shirt strangled him
He fell strangled.

And I have revealed destinies to all my friends
To those I know without greeting, to those I greet
           without knowing.

I gave death to the strangled
Despite his signs of indelible fatigue.

I edged five years of life
Did a locust bear me in the summer?

It was a cursed day.
My mother didn't manage to recognize me.

Still, perfection.
Still, who conquers you, Oh you, perturbed Guest, Your mask
           tears, Your finger is a slight nightingale.
An occult flame trills. Your body overcomes,
           your modesty, your vigil.
Lift me to clarity. I am an
           abject simian who needs forgiveness.
A buffalo that descends
           into the leprous garden
           on the lit back of the rainbow.

Lift me to clarity.
The night is a lost island
           in the vertiginous vortex of your
Extensive, benevolent
and you, open rose, wandering my desires.

I was crossing the black hills of an unknown
Therein the spectacle:
I was lucid in defeat. My ancestors were
           handing me combat weapons.
I avoided the universe because of a great injustice
You who escort me toward a distant eternity
Oh prayer at dawn, mourning summits, doors that
           border fog breakwaters.
Save my injured masses, verify an act of
           grace on my slopes.
But, what do I see, spread in a wilderness of dry
           branches? A glacier falls languidly
           on the lawn.
The marble says goodbye to man because this one
           is an irreverent statue.

Brandishing a glass dagger between temples
The soldiers walk by, the blacksmiths, the races of color, the
           melancholy women
Through the rainbow’s grey canals, silenced into the cliffs
           of foam
To the celestial adventure of the cinematographers, to the small
           monument of the stellar birds.

A dream makes them different from reality
An unknown bat made them visible to life.

And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
Your mother subjugated by your father.
And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
All the mothers of the world subjugated by all the
           fathers of the world.
And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
All the mothers of the world divorced from all the
           fathers of the world.

And the first day they gave you little pats on your shoulder
And the second day they gave you little pats on your stomach
And the third day they gave you little pats on your forehead
And the fourth day you had no shoulder
And the fifth day you had no stomach
And the sixth day you had no forehead
But invalid enigmas instead,
           enigmas flowering on skin.

You followed my route: The deluge of my kisses
           at the milky way’s wandering
The choleric wing of my blood
A band of red insects gnawing the fog.

You were telling me: On top of the sky there’s an
           intersection of primal forests
On top of the snow lies the taciturn corpse of my tongue
And the world's magic in the open arms of love.

War ships of my vegetable feet
With a submerged bell the wine's star
Strange names, glacial
           rivers, impalpable watersheds
           shirt horses with two fingers forward
May a woman unclothe her soul
Her body and her soul
At the edge of the pulsing stars
May she build with hammering oblivion blows
A fantastic garden with drunk salamanders.

Nothing is yours, nothing can quench your terrestrial thirst
Nothing is mine, except death's perforation, except indispensable
           ruins so that negligent, forgotten organic
           strengths might sing their illuminated redemption.

Bread of moon's milk, dark tremor of the cereals
Cloud precipices that drowned my sleeping face
           amid the waters
Declare me empty in my rest, in my madness
Declare me guilty.
The air’s perfumed finger
Signals to love’s demented ears.

When a silent ship cuts in two
           the cruel landscape of my lips
When my viscera are extinguished
           they will find a lost scream.
The perfumed feathers of a taciturn sparrow-hawk.
A hostile world.
A disappeared world.
Blue trunks that floated at the mercy of the mud and
An insect on the bourgeoisie's table
Brusque animals that drag somber catafalques
Invalid enigmas
Enigmas flowering on skin
Memories of sterile stars
Black tunnels of distracted word
Domesticated dogs
Luxury dogs, melancholic and mellifluous
Deaf survivors and defunct melodies sighing
           a warm lavender air
While my earthly temples ignore
Your nacre dress
Where the Extermination keys
Don’t appear.

(--Elena y los elementos, 1951)


Mythology of the City and the Sea

Horses burning with nostalgia, pure horses of my sadness
over illuminated bays. Your nostrils breathing strenuously
over the flanks of mimosas escorting fresh chimes. I have penetrated
guilty atriums. In the threshold of your house I was called by the
malevolent ones, I climbed the wall’s leprous scales.

Peace for the open countryside planted with precious animals.
           Peace for my sweet-eyed ancestors aligned with the bowl
         of rootless stars.
Illusory peace, disperse the fire of thorns, the
         garlands of mental misplacement.

Inhospitable time: I’m your tenacious enemy, your rival without
           luster, your under-relief in the higher night
           consumed by clarity.

Outside, I’ve seen the toppled profile of the multitude. She
distinguished my lamp in her dream’s twilight.
I gave her my lust’s perfume and the odiferous manes
of a cycle of oboes that dance under rain.

That night I said goodbye to the malevolent ones. Supreme goodbye to
innocence, to guilt, to disenchantment. That night I reached
a foreign woman’s house. For me, her body had
a taste of bitter splendors.

I move on to the unknown woman undone with the blue sheet of
distance. The woman penetrates houses adorned with sparkling
palm trees, let down the earth’s fire ladders,
descend to the infernos in man’s mouth. I offer her
the sordid fury of the insect and a ring of anguish
that circles these slow hands.

I move on to the unknown woman: her feet are frenetic comets, her
hands are sacred groves, her music, the silent
music of the deserts.

Universes buried under the arches of thirsty
calm eclipses of the solar meridians, oceans
of stone with the whiteness of eternal snows, listen to me:

           I curse I bleed on the tree of good and evil
           on death and on night
           I drag my chains like wolves on beaches of boredom
           I sink evasive fog pamphlets into my chest
           The last word of the strangled ones
           The word that kills black dawn
           My accomplice
            (floating islands in the mellifluous mane of the corals).

           High very high above the heights—Can you hear
           the corroded flute of the imaginary countries?

Then the woman who was sleeping at my side felt the chambers
           of her heart.
And extinguished the invisible splendors in my forehead’s
And the workers cloaked themselves in the sunset’s edges,
And galloped toward my blood.

High very high above the heights
The new love was heard, one last time.

Beyond the imprecise limit of our existence, my
flesh veers toward the waves, stabbed by unbeatable spasms.
Who said flesh, the enigma, the illusion of flesh?
Calm the disaster of the tigers
Come to the city of cobras and thunder
Turn off the lamp of disappointment, penetrate the snowy
           rooftops of the rainbow, sink yourself into a region of blue tangles.
Release my fugitive sailboats when the white tempest
           explodes in the frozen orb.

City of inexpressible sadness:
I perish in your fatigued ships, in your fatal ambushes.
Your indulgent women set up a net of avid tigers for me.
I cover your naked back with my fluency dressed in underground harps.
While I seek my origins in melted rocks, in the
           ashes of dead animals.
While I drink your presence
like the scream of large black birds
amid melancholy leaves.

Walk through the railings of this tulip room, escape in
           the middle of the flowing scandal.

Stars scattered at the turn
Blocked desires, lost planets
Pieces of skeletons, smooth skulls.

You arrive on the scream of the equinoxes, in the plaza
           of the pursued lambs,
in the furious flute of the churners.
Arriving, you muffle the lightning bolt with a glass of almonds.
This dream’s anchor opens my eyes into life.

(--Elena y los elementos, 1951)


Old People

I don’t know if old people live the immediate
I know they want to escape
like drunkards
or standing
arrive different
and show up on time
for the great appointment
at a sea
on the edge of the sea

they don’t sleep either
nor are they alone
and yet
they always find themselves
they wait calmly
drinking goats milk
in ample
just over the rooftops
in a village that
belongs to the moon
or in a hotel in Liverpool

nothing exists beyond instants
don’t come and contradict me
my vain, dear
there’s that
the surplus
the lack
the ruckus

what you long for
what burns
is young
and antique
no mother speaks to us anymore
mother-fucking death
who eats
thrushes        thresholds
red cherries in the patio

old people would sing
but they occupy a foreign name
without place on the map or in
the geography

that’s why when they weigh me and
slit my throat
due to time
I also belong to another route
I step forward
Test north with my nape
and I’m assaulted below
or amidst
the water that springs thirst
by the vigilant spirit
of the old people
retrace the enormous curtain
want to scale
the wall
hiccupping furiously
guttural or natural
the successive jolts of a true
that actually happened

they would speak or sing then
if they had a vocal timbre
to make the name human for us.


Air over the Air

A round horse enters
my house after wandering so long
in the fields

a brown and drunken horse with
many spots in the shade
and with such a voice, my God.

I told him: you won’t lick my hand,
wandering spectral star.

And that was enough. I didn’t see him again. He
had left. Because the specters
can’t be mentioned to the horse
not even for the duration of a
brief, vertiginous lightning bolt.

With a stone I am going to close
your secrets and hummingbirds and place them on the same

I am going to close them with a stone
because they’re here tonight and they make

because they also sleep in some lap of
my afternoons and twilights

because they also dreamed and acted in the name of
all of us
the years that gather and corkscrew, and the days that
are here tonight, and make noise and never
stand still.

César Moro, beautiful and humbled,
playing a harp in the outskirts of Lima
said to me: come into my house, poet
always ask for air, clear sky
because we have to die some day, it’s understood
we have to be born, and you are already dead
the floor will always stay here, wide and mute
but to die from the same family is to have been born.

Tomorrow will portion what crude flavor, dense

looks in already, without keeping any distance

how that thunder sounds and dreams

and samples the earth of our abyss


what is there due north, due south

the dark or luminous instead

or maybe our shelter

maybe disgrace

what armor

tough, light on our shoulders

sustains and carries us today?

Stay calm if I take a step toward the
garden and the desert

and may our life and death stay calm

tremors of the fresh, enormous breeze calling

should I answer?
will you let me?

our bread tree is the spirit going far


those tremulous tremors that lull

silence and silence

—I trust them.

Maybe Ezra Pound has a workshop in the beyond
or smiles frequently at the immense tenderness
of Gerard de Nerval. The universal American might
say when looking at clouds: “These hairy dogs
belong to us.” But then the angels will see
his maritime and almond heart. And they will find
in the dark, further down, as if pouring from the earth,
exploding in air, a thin splendorous fan.
Ezra Pound’s mouth will taste that sweet fruit again
(the blackberry), that piece chewed with the women
he loved; and he will open sacks full of oatmeal, grass,
plenty of oatmeal, plenty of grass with infinite mornings to
keep us all nourished and awake.

                                               to Malena

I am neither man nor woman
I only have my own splendor
when I don’t lose the river’s course
when I don’t lose its true sun
and I can fade away free, revolve, row,
sail within the absolute and the
white sea

then I really am
the red man full of blood

and yes I am the woman: a limpid flower, a
big iris

and I am also the soul

and the deep valleys lighten
in our mute eternal embrace,
cold love

—and what else
what else for now
blue canoe
little canoe.

By our time
laugh and cry
now is the time

by nothing and all
now is our time

I hear
a first and second timbal chorus

do you hear them, yes or no?
—arriving and flying

in double threes with their hours
playing the main drum come the waves
hear them and feel a touch:
calling, roaring, creaking
over valleys and mountain ranges

clear and white time
warm and naked nothing
they also become leisure
—pure water
and strange world our world
and the other sphere.

And I know my limits
—I have a dwelling, my dwelling is
the live owl, not

do they graze those cattle?
—never the owl

she vibrates, breathes freely
and if this were possible,
suddenly, in the tall clock
no hour strikes

but she ends up here again, in branches
and kernelled fruits
on which she paints purple eyes
not caring at all about our vain chess moves
facing the immense unlimited

or slams the door in our face
with her silence

the owl inside the moon’s well
at the very lonely one o’clock of

By the primordial rhythms of
our land
which is hard and soft

by the five senses
and our abyss

by the desire to taste the light
we kneel down and cry like this:

if your mouth is on the infinite
and your thorn is my bread

you should already have two stones over each
hand of the desert

you no longer have bees in the hive
nor springs but elevated mountains instead

and you remain asleep on the plains
which are no one’s lodgings

and it’s useless for us to stand in front of you
with applause salvos or rifle shots

and you don’t care about the too audible scream
between us

and you don’t recover from the dream
or from your plains that also dream
or from eternal clarity


If there are distances to
the terrible, serious unknown ripens
—little bird

when we go to sleep you perch on
multi-colored windows

when we wake up there they are, in a single
your steps and ours
—measured, overflowing
by the blind gesture, haste, slightest trace
of a mouth that pecks and pecks
the original jungle where they brew barley

or you look up, down
amid arrogance and leisure

us, amusing, compulsive, tragic
we are a pure crucible

word and understanding
—nobody’s heart

and soft pregnancy, voluptuous
jingles, hums melodies
overtakes our eyes and captivity

air over the air

where a bird sings.

                                               to Álvaro Mutis

Apex and summit
flush with our first aim

procure us refuge

and nourished by the skin of autumn
our houses and animals begin to warm up

and let there only be diaphanousness
on our part regarding man or woman

ora pro nobis bird of good omen, ora
pro nobis in your ultra-fine and fixed fog

pray for us
while colorless afternoons arrive
and winters abound.

Maybe I can
and you can

it is urgent for us
but only
one sailboat

and to wait serenely
on our shores and confines

it is urgent for us
to live undeceived
currents and gusts
plains and horizons
through the eye of an ox
—facing the wall
until sunrise

indivisible one who joins us to life
it is urgent for us
your nuptial ring, your emerald on our finger
and may you distribute among us
dawn or twilight
and a damp rose
with numen and syllables from your orchards and meadows
amen and amen
as we glimpse our ports.

(--Aire sobre el aire, 1989)


The One Who Threw Burning Grapes
By Lorenzo García Vega

The one who threw burning grapes into hard bays? Who knew how to say it? Only a poet, of course, only my friend Juan Sánchez Peláez knew how. But because it ends up being painful for me to say he’s no longer here, I’ll take a leap that will lead me to a cinema from my youth. How’s this?

Some of us poets or men of letters, or whatever term one might use, who erupted onto the Latin American scene encompassed between the years 1940 and 1955, saw certain pathetic newsreels in the cinemas where a broadcaster with a “serious” voice explained what we were seeing: an atomic explosion over some Japanese cities. It was an entirely new Chapter in History (just like that, with capitals or with a capital voice, was how the newscaster said it) that was going to change everything, or take everything apart. This is how existential anguish became a daily occurrence. An existential anguish that was dyed with Surrealism’s good fires.

That’s exactly how it was. We made our entrance beneath an atomic explosion narrated by a newscaster and we hid ourselves, however we could, beneath Surrealism’s final shots. So that those of us who were young in those times—a few young people who had proposed among ourselves to hide beneath the metaphorical disorder of the avant-garde—, and who lived amid the isolation of an island, nourished ourselves in any way we could with what reached us from the outside world through the bookstores in Havana. And this, while on the mainland, in other words on the continent, a Venezuelan we didn’t know, Juan Sánchez Peláez, was making his way to Chile to gather the legacy of that Surrealist magazine, Mandrágora, where, according to a critic: “The Mandragoristas opened a path with elbow jabs, savagely breaking with everything; screams, improprieties, insults against the medium with no concern for good manners.” And this, so that afterwards, on a journey by velocipede, as Juan confessed in one of his poems, he ended up in that Paris where he met Peret, and where he assimilated such things as “the deep and long night of my age,” pointed out by Eluard.

It was an anguish, then, which arrived with an atomic explosion that, transformed into shadows of film, settled in the Havana neighborhood cinema we went to. Or it was a Surrealism with a night of astonishing harlequins, or with a scream that warned: Into the water with Apollinaire!, but where isolation was the only thing that existed. An isolation where the Surrealist automatism we tried to plunge into ended up being an empty gesture. A gesture that was merely surrounded by the solitude of an island where the surreal was seen out of the corner of an eye by a glance that, even in its best expression, Gongoresque, attained the quality of the Beautiful with a capital. In other words, the Beautiful with a Roman God, which couldn’t help being, with its lamentable connection to the ritualistic, the manifestation of the cassock and the cathedral.

And, how sad then!, as we walked out of those cinemas where the atomic bomb exploded, that we young people, who lived surrounded by water on all sides, couldn’t fully connect with the great Latin American Surrealist shadows who wandered on the mainland: César Moro, Molina, or Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, or…

In the end, many things had to occur and, among these, departing the island in a stampede, so as to be able to encounter, after a few years, the surrealist, friend and contemporary, Juan Sánchez Peláez, whom we should have encountered sooner, much sooner. But, finally…We were destined to meet, and the Laws of Cosmic Necessity (laws that could have been dictated by that Gurdief that Juan was reading the last time I saw him) led the poet Octavio Armand to put me in contact with Juan (and, of course, with his companion Malena), during a New York night in the 1970s.

And who was Juan, the Venezuelan poet born in 1922 in Altagracia de Orituco, in the sate of Guárico, and who died in Caracas last November? Who was that Juan, with a turtleneck and Picassian eyes, who I met one night in New York? Well, looking through a window now in January, through a window that, I don’t know how, puts me in direct contact with the old gold—alchemical?—of a light, this, with nothing else whatsoever but to face the weight of his absence. My friend the poet, who knew how to define himself so well in this manner: “And I know of my limits / I possess a dwelling, my dwelling is / the irony, / a living owl, no / embalmed / the owl that's in the well of the / moon / at the very lonely first hour of / dawn.”

Or I remember once, when emerging from the room that was in the hallucinatory patio of his house in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas, Juan arrived on the terrace were I sat to say to me suddenly, but not emphatically: “The words sound like gold animals.” And then—I can guarantee it happened this way—I hallucinated when I heard Juan say those words, since, in a way I wouldn’t know how to explain now, I understood what my poet friend was saying was not one of his verses, but just that, gold animals, which he seemed to know how to weigh in his hands, while he spied on the brilliance as though he were a child.

Or Juan, how would I know how to say it?, with his deafness, in his slow, very slow walks that he took, where he was like a Zen figure whose cane, which in actuality he never used, had just been taken away. Very slow walks, I repeat. And above all I remember one, paradigmatic, which we took around the Paseo de los Chorros in Caracas, and where I thought to say to Juan that at any moment we could very well come across an apparition of Ramos Sucre, that Venezuelan poet so close to us, arm in arm with Empress Charlotte. I thought to say this to him, and my friend Juan, poet without a cane, advanced a few steps, as he tended to do during his walks; and he backed up one step, as he immediately tended to do; and this so as to, as always, conclude by opening his eyes, or covering his mouth, just like a gracious character in a silent film who knew how to say it all without having to use a single sound. Although, yes, a silent character, who in certain moments knew how to sing “Júrame” for us, that song composed by María Greber in 1926, which he loved so much (“I’m certain—he once told me—if the old Surrealists had heard it, it would have been one of their favorite songs”).

Or Juan, at the end, who knew like no one else how to evoke César Moro, a figure Latin American Surrealism can identify with, and he did this with words that can also serve to say goodbye to him in this brief essay:

César Moro, beautiful and humbled,
playing a harp in the outskirts of Lima
said to me: come into my house, poet
always ask for air, clear sky
because we have to die some day, it’s understood
we have to be born, and you are already dead
the floor will always stay here, wide and mute
but to die from the same family is to have been born.


For Juan Sánchez Peláez
By Juan Calzadilla

For many of our critics and also for many poets, among which I count myself, Juan Sánchez Peláez is, alongside J.A. Ramos Sucre, par excellence the emblematic figure of contemporary Venezuelan lyric poetry. Not only for having provided an extraordinary contribution to the nation’s poetry with his book Elena y los elementos, published in 1951 (and with his subsequent books), but because it was done in a systematic manner, from generation to generation, a required and irreplaceable reference for our poetry when the time comes to speak of genealogies and influences. In particular, he is a reference for poets who emerged between the end of the Fifties and the beginning of the Seventies. An unavoidable reference when one begins to analyze, as has not been done so far, the effects of that poetic avant-garde which appeared in Venezuela simultaneously with the new art movements and with the renovation of languages we experimented at the beginning of the Fifties. Juan returns us, in body and in work, to a mastery exercised with prudence and quickness, a mastery that was also translated, and this was important, in stimulation, fraternity and solidarity with new poets, throughout several decades, until only recently, when he left riding his final horse, the oldest one. For the long journey to the land that some of his verses cursed and kicked. Juan was thus a master, without pretending to be and with the utmost modesty, in front of us who, younger than him and with less experience, discovered in his work, when it was unknown to the rest of the poets, a different language, rigorous and at the same time profound, subliminal, whose new style for that time, forced us to a more attentive and confident reading than we usually gave poetry. What’s interesting about this observation is that the work of Juan Sánchez Peláez was never disavowed or lowered in esteem under the gaze of the most recent poets who continued to read him attentively, with the same care they paid their own work, through the books he slowly and penitently, at blind and regular intervals, published between 1951 and 1989. In some way, eloquently or tacitly, we poets of the Sixties are in debt to him for his own interest, as a great reader, in our work, within a camaraderie that never came close to being an academic pretension, or bearing traces of adulation or complacency.

The preference for his work that obliges us to this tribute is founded, to say something, in the unity and equal quality his work sustains, book by book; a qualitative level maintained throughout all his writing, amid periods of silence, isolation and seclusion for the poet tormented by inner ghosts and by the uproar of the city. Rigor and temperance not often seen in Venezuelan poetry, before and after him, as corresponds a poet who had a high awareness of his role, removed as Juan was from any expression of vanity, from any marketing display or desire.

In all, whoever thinks the work of J.S.P. is of easy access and decipherable at first glance is being insensitive, since it is known to be suggestive and, metaphorically speaking, brilliant, concise in its intentionality. Juan was a poet obsessed with verbal alchemy, with the transmutation of the real into a feeling expressed in words, as is expected of a great reader of Rimbaud and a scholar of French surrealist poetry. Paradoxically, he writes in fascination of the associative power of memory (he was a great rememberer), but he doesn’t trust the anecdote, or anything that might end up being too explicit or linear, without renouncing the self-confessional tone, presented directly or hidden, in a symbolically Freudian, existential mode, in many of his texts. In this our poet is supremely contradictory (and Juan used verse almost exclusively to express himself): on the one hand he fights against reason, which he tries to drown at the riverbed of the unspeakable, from the persistent innocence that fights to recuperate childhood in his language. But on the other hand, generally automatically, he gives himself over to the nostalgia of real and material fields that seem unreachable through language and whose attainment is only possible within life itself, as are the female body, so physically caressed and desired in his verses, or in general, love’s machinery. Frustrated lover, Juan was a romantic, exacerbated in his explosions of ingenuity and contained anger, celebratory and emphatic in his I, like the master Ramos Sucre. Juan condemns and exalts himself before the cold and neutral beauty of language and prostrates himself before her as though she were the impossible lover, finally satisfying himself, in the kindness of speech to extract himself from the interludes of pessimism and frustration that anguish him, inundate him, especially facing the feeling of death, almost always expressed as a presentiment, like an arriving absolute, in all his books, confronting as it is the anxiety of purification.


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